NHL Preview: Chicago Blackhawks
We are just one week from the opening faceoff of NHL 2006. With that in mind, we press on with our NHL preview series. Today, the twentieth part of that series, the Chicago Blackhawks. (Yes, I know this ought to be the Vancouver Canucks right now. But DefDude has gona AWOL. So we'll get back to them when we get the chance.)
The Original Six. Few terms in sports invoke more nostalgia-stoked remenisces from delerious old men in nursing homes that will be ignored by their pale faced sixteen year old grandsons who just want to gome home and play Xbox for Christ's sake. But imagine, grandson, if you could take your copy of NHL 07 and take all the best players from all thirty teams, and compress them down to six. That's right. Pretty sweet, huh? You've got Peter Forsberg centering Alex Ovechkin and Johnathan Cheechoo? Your totally gonna kick your buddy's ass. Congratulations.
Yes, the Original Six. From 1942 until 1967, the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and, yes, the Chicago Black Hawks (it was two words back then) formed a league in which East Coast bias was never an issue and nobody ever had to complain about economic imbalance. They also formed a league in which the Stanley Cup got passed around like that slutty chick you went to high school (we'll call her "Jenny" in this case, not that I ever knew anybody named Jenny) with the result being inflated championship totals for teams like the Montreal Canadiens. (Ironically, the Rangers only won one. Suck it New York!)
But with the advent of things like "expansion", "the Canadian dollar" and "Gary Bettman" the six teams suddenly found it much harder to be as lucky as they once were. Some continue to have success, like the Detroit Red Wings. Others, like Boston and New York, have become shining beacons of quality management (or something like that). And one has managed to become the biggest laughingstock in team sports. Canadian team sports, I mean.
The 21st Century has not been kind to hockey fans in the Windy City. The team missed the playoffs four years in a row from 1998-2001, lost in the first round in five games in 2002 and haven't been back to the playoffs since. They have been a team known for incompetent management, cheap management and lackluster on-ice play. In fact, even when they do things right, they do things wrong. During the summer of 2005 they were major players in the free agent market, signing away defending Stanley Cup Champion goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and top notch defenseman Adrian Aucoin, both of whom spent most of the year on the IR.
So what can you, Joe Blackhawks Fan, expect out of the 2006-07 season? In theory at least, you should be looking at a dramatic improvement after an offseason filled with major trades. (Not free agent signings, though. Nobody wanted to talk to the Blackhawks because, well, nobody is stupid enough to go there willingly.) The offense is drastically improved with the additions of Martin "Marty" Havlat and Michael Handzus. With any luck the goaltending and defense should be aided by the return of Khabibulin and Aucoin from the disabled list. But what does this all mean? It means that you and your hockey fan friend(s) will probably be incarcerated at the hospital under 24/7 suicide watch by the end of November. Sorry, that's just the way it is.
You, too, can help save a life. Check back with The Blackhawk Experience around the second month of the season and be sure to remove any sharp objects and/or shoelaces.